New vista: Govt suspends MPLADS
Prescience is supposed to be a good thing. But its results can be unexpected. India’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government seems to have foreseen that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue till 2022. Little else can explain its decision to suspend funds for the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme for 2020-21 and 2021-22 for stated reasons of the pandemic. There is no doubt that austerity measures are needed. Hence members of parliament in both Houses had no problems with the 30 per cent salary cut being imposed on them. Besides providing the saved amount for measures to fight Covid-19, this would also be a signal for a population suffering from job losses and reduced incomes that their elected representatives wish to share and help. So while this decision was accepted, Opposition MPs objected vociferously to the suspension of MPLADS. It means that the needs of the people, many of them exacerbated by the conditions of the pandemic, cannot be met by their local MPs. People’s well-being is a priority during these difficult times; why stop MPs from helping their constituencies?
The answer lies in the BJP-led government’s sustained thrust towards centralization. The Centre will decide which segment of the people is to benefit from funds, and the Union government must be seen to stretch out the helping hand. That is, if the saved MPLADS money is to be used for this purpose at all. It is not just that MPLADS is being suspended for two years — temporarily, the government has said. According to a letter by the Planning Board vice-chairman, the government had also delayed releasing Rs 150 crore incurred in the previous Lok Sabha; the Centre has made clear that there is no budget head under which earlier instalments can be released. Since local development often requires small contractors, it is not clear who is to pay them in times of scarcity for work already done. Opposition MPs had many suggestions, one being that instead of Rs 5 crore, legislators be given half the amount for development this year. The government remained unmoved. And the repeated question why the Central Vista and bullet train projects should continue in times of austerity and suffering was not worth answering.